Children in the industrial revolution

“Did life improve, for the children of farm labourers and the working class, during the Industrial Revolution?” The children of the 18th and 19th centuries (1750s to 1850s), during the Industrial Revolution in Britain, endured harsh times. They had to sacrifice their childhood to work and earn money for their family. The lives of these children of farm labourers and the working class didn’t improve during the Industrial Revolution. There were many benefits for these children, such as Laws, Leisure, Sports and Education. There were also many problems and dreadful effects of the Industrial Revolution which affected the children greatly.

The benefits however, didn’t take place until after the Industrial Revolution (not during), despite the fact that they were long term. The Industrial Revolution in Great Britain occurred for approximately a century, from 1750 to 1850. This was a period where great changes took place, over a fairly short space of time. Britain was the world’s first industrial nation, and this revolution made it the wealthiest and most powerful country. The population grew dramatically and following the agricultural revolution and the domestic system (Moss, 1968), most families sought work in the city, in mines and textile factories, which is seen in Source 1 (in the Appendices).

Children before the Industrial Revolution lived in feudal manors in the country. The living and working conditions were much more liberated than in the factory system. Though it still was harsh and labour intensive, this was the case throughout all parts of the Industrial Revolution. The food relied on each season, and a bad season was equivalent to famine and starvation. However, in the villages, the children had the freedom of outdoors, with no pollution and the opportunity to exercise while helping their parents and moving from field to field.

They also didn’t have extremely long working hours, and received the right amount of sunlight for their health. (Refer to Source 2) The youth who worked in the domestic system were still quite fortunate, though their whole lifestyle changed. The enclosure movement encouraged this cottage system, after the need for labour decreased. Families worked together to manufacture clothing to sell to clothiers in their small cramped cottage, working very long hours. Their homes were polluted from the toxins and wastes of the materials and they used simple tools and machinery, so it was highly unproductive.

But the children worked at home, and were treated much better than in the factories. Meals could be taken when needed and families had the independence of choosing when to work, so as long as they met the deadline. They didn’t have to travel to do their labour, and there were windows for light and ventilation, opposed to the appalling conditions in the factories. (Refer to Source 3) The children that worked in factories hardly experienced any benefits, as these came after the Industrial Revolution has actually ended (1850).

Conditions certainly didn’t improve during the Revolution for this working class as they performed their dangerous jobs. The living environment consisted of one tiny room, where they slept with their parents and, on average, 5-10 other siblings, with no windows for ventilation and light (Smith, 2002). These houses were built cheaply and quickly, back to back along small alleys, were there was one ‘privy’ (lavatory) for the entire street along with one polluted water tap. Many diseases and epidemics spread, and the children were not at all healthy, as you can see in Source 4 (Document Study, 2012).

Open sewers and unpaved roads, along with poor quality air, smoky from the factories did not encourage wellbeing either. A normal working day for a child was fourteen to sixteen hours long (Smith, 2002) starting at six in the morning (Refer to Source 5). In these grim, brutal factories, the overseer decided when work started and finished. Small children, from the age of 3 had the job of a scavenger, where they crawled underneath or even inside running machines to fix broken parts. This caused dangerous and horrific injuries and deaths, for example “a girl at Stockport, carried by her clothing round an upright shaft, thighs were broken, ankles dislocated.

A boy’s shirt caught in a machine, arm was torn off and head injured.” (Evidence given to Parliament in 1841 – Smith, 2002) In the mines, the conditions were no different to those in the dreadful factories. Young children and women dragged coal and minded trap doors in dangerous circumstances. There were explosive and suffocating gases and collapsing rooves in the pitch dark. Children were deprived of sunlight, waking up early before sunrise and finishing late at night, with no time for exercise or ‘fresh’ air. Those children had no other activities, until schooling was introduced, which was very expensive, though it became free and compulsory in the 1870s.

But this was after the Industrial Revolution, and life for children did not improve during the Industrial Revolution for the working class and farm labourers. Many legal changes and acts did occur, such as the ‘Factory Acts’ across various years but laws given earlier on were almost always breached and the maximum number of hours that a child could work was either still very high (Cotton Mills Act 1819 – 16 hours), or then contradicted and increased from before (The Ten Hour Act in 1847 became 12 hours in 1850).

The life for the children of farm labourers and the working class, during the Industrial Revolution did not improve. Most benefits and comforts occurred after the Industrial Revolution not during. In the agricultural countryside, farming was much more liberated and less harsh with fewer spreading of disease.

The domestic system also had better working and living conditions than the factory system and children weren’t treated as badly. In the city, children were in repugnant surroundings and experienced terrible conditions each day. It was a big downfall in lifestyle, even though the Industrial Revolution allowed economic growth and an advance in technology. The shocking conditions that the children went through weren’t identified and their lived weren’t improved until after the Industrial Revolution.